I went to see The Dark Knight Rises1 a few nights ago. This, of course, is the most recent film adaptation of the Batman legend and although the movie has been in theatres for a while this was my first opportunity to see the picture. This blog will contain spoilers so if you have not yet seen it, and want to be surprised by plot twists, you should put off reading this blog until you have seen the movie.
The film represents the third in the Christopher Nolan trilogy which reinterprets the Batman legend. The tagline for this third instalment is “The Legend Ends” suggesting that Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan are wrapping up the story and giving us the final years of the Bruce Wayne, Batman. But, of course, as we are told throughout all three movies, the Batman is a symbol and anyone could be behind the mask. At more than one point in the movie we are convinced that Batman/Bruce Wayne has made the final sacrifice and is gone. Yet the Batman manages to “rise” from the ashes once again. The word “rise” and the concept of “rising” recurs several times in the movie. The juxtaposition of darkness and light, evil and good, and injustice and justice are other recurring themes carried along in all three of the trilogy movies.
Before the release of the movie the Nolans revealed that The Dark Knight Rises was inspired by A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Prior to seeing the show I had not heard this but I picked it up in the eulogy scene where Commissioner Gordon praises Bruce Wayne with words from the end of the novel. On further reflection the themes of revolution, the populist uprising (reminiscent of the French Revolution), the desire for social justice, the view of what that can actually look like in the hands of a mob, the puppet-like movements of the mob controlled by shadowy figures watching from the sidelines, and ultimate sacrifice, all owe their genesis and power to Dickens and his images in A Tale of Two Cities. There are further comparisons that could be made and for more reading on this I direct the reader to other blogs.2
My assessment of the film is that it truly succeeds in causing the viewer to ask good questions about the type of society we desire to achieve. I have been a huge fan of Jonathan Nolan’s writing since I first discovered him in Memento3 (not a film I would recommend for everyone’s viewing but a philosophical film dealing with pertinent issues of our time).
As I first settled into the 165 minute Dark Knight blockbuster I found myself very unsettled by the populace uprisings. The similarities to the “Occupy Movement” were too easy to connect and I felt like I was being pulled into sympathy for the movement and I wondered about the message and integrity of the film. The “Occupy Movement” contains elements of truth and a desire for greater social justice but few consistent solutions. (The Nolans have said that the film has little to do with the “Occupy Movement” and everything to do with the French Revolution of A Tale of Two Cities but of course the interpretations are there for us all to see.) I was afraid that the Nolans had jumped on a cultural band-wagon that would not provide adequate analysis of the present situation. But, my fears were soon relieved for I realized that they were being very intentional in convincing us to sympathize with “the people” so that they could reel us into the discussion. We soon see just where this populace uprising will lead as the mob is put “in charge” while Bane and another, not yet revealed, puppet-master manipulate the city. The dictators hold out just enough hope to convince the people that they will triumph while ultimately pulling the rug out from under the feet of the people and using them for the ends of the manipulators. We see that “social justice” in the hands of a mob is no justice at all.
The Dark Knight Rises is also a retelling of one of the oldest stories written into the very fabric of the universe. Many of the great novels, odes, epic poems, and movies of all time tell the story of sacrifice. There are many variations on the theme but the powerful message of the king who lays down his life for his people, the brother, husband, father, sister or mother, who substitutes his or her life for the loved one, is there in one form or another. Here it recurs in threes as the Batman, this great symbol of justice and right, repeatedly sacrifices himself for others who do not deserve the sacrifice.
Then, there is the other common theme of “the traitor from within.” The one in whom we trust and see as the saviour who is later revealed to be evil incarnate. The “White Witch of Narnia” who gives us treats of Turkish Delight while planning our demise comes to mind. “Saruman the White” in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy is another example. In this most recent Nolan movie it is Bane and the other mystery person who look like they will be the saviour but instead are the ultimate villain. We are even pulled into a sense of sympathy for why each of them became so evil but it is a sympathy which the villains do not share with us. Their worlds are absolutely devoid of care for anyone or anything beyond themselves and their self-centred goals. I love the way Christopher Nolan directed the movie and set up the scene that creates a fore-shadowing of the final twist of the plot in which we discover the real mastermind behind the events. The director and film editor are very precise in their foreshadowing as they zoom in on a tiny scar for only long enough for us to get a small sense of it in our sub-conscious (at least that is how it worked for me). When the plot twist was revealed I found myself thinking back to that scene and realizing that they had given me the hint I needed to work it out but I only saw it as I looked back over my shoulder. That is truly the very best kind of foreshadowing there can be. Bravo, Mr. Nolan; and bravo, Mr. Nolan!
1 The Dark Knight Rises. Directed by Christopher Nolan. 2012.
2 Most significantly, see http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2012/07/21/the_dark_knight_rises_inspired_by_a_tale_of_two_cities_the_parts_that_draw_from_dickens_.html